After four previous albums that to varying degrees meld his idol Django Reinhardt's gypsy jazz with French chanson in originals and specially chosen covers, guitarist and vocalist Thomas Dutronc realizes a dream with Frenchy. Accompanied by his quartet and an international cast of guests including Iggy Pop, Diana Krall, Stacey Kent, Youn Sun Nah, Haley Reinhart, Jeff Goldblum, and Billy Gibbons, he pays homage to the timelessness of French song with a mostly wonderful result. Iggy and Krall assist on Hernri Bette's and Andre Hornez's "C'est si Bon," immortalized by Yves Montand. While this version doesn’t add much, it's delivered bilingually, thus embracing Jerry Seelen's English lyrics. Edit Piaf's theme, "La Vie en Rose," finds Gibbons adding a silvery touch to an uncharacteristically languid guitar solo. The particular quality in the grain of Dutronc's voice and phrasing bridge Piaf's clipped enunciation with Chet Baker's vulnerable delivery style. "Plus Je T'embrasse," penned by American composer Ben Ryan, was rendered iconic by Blossom Dearie in 1958. Dutronc reads it with fingerpopping hipster sass. American soprano saxophonist, jazz giant Sidney Bechet (beloved in France since 1922) scored a hit there with "Petit Fleur." Its Latin percussion and lonely musette frame Dutronc's vocal and guitar exquisitely. He also reimagines chart hits by two French groups who composed their lyrics in English: A sultry, almost erotic read of Air's "Playground Love" with South Korea's Nah, and an all but unrecognizable version of Daft Punk's international smash "Get Lucky." While Dutronc's vocal on the latter is unsuitable for its melody, his hip take on gypsy-cool jazz adds dimension and savvy. There's another fine duet here between the guitarist and Stacey Kent on a resonant, sensual take of Pierre Barouh's title theme for the film "Un Homme et Une Femme." Frenchy couldn’t exist without a tune by Reinhardt (the French press has dubbed Dutronc "Django's Son"), a modern version of "Minor Swing" that replaces Stephane Grappelli's violin with a Rhodes piano, popping electric guitars, and hyper-strummed mandolin. Alongside Haley Reinhart, Dutronc offers a resilient, rockist read of Jacques Brel's eternal "If You Go Away" adds to a lineage started by Georges Brassens and Leo Ferre. A truly confusing entry here is the inclusion of "My Way." Set to the music of the French song "Comme d'habitude," composed and written by Jacques Revaux, Frank Sinatra's signature version (with unrelated English lyrics by Paul Anka), is the standard no matter who sings it. Dutronc's attempt to straddle cultural lines is valiant, but so wispy it should have been abandoned. Further, on Sacha Distel's and Jean Broussolle's "La Belle Vie" (Yankees know it as Tony Bennet's "The Good Life"), is temporarily elevated by Goldblum's deft pianism, but his uneven, ever so slight singing voice, when paired with the guitarist's expressive baritone, proves detrimental. Dutronc planned and recorded Frenchy with great care and more than a little skill. Fans will find much to delight in. However, attraction for non-Francophone audiences may prove -- despite the album's high quality -- somewhat limited.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo